August 12, 2012

Green Mountain Gem

Roughly seven years ago, Betty went to a lecture at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.  I was still deeply engrossed in something called “the corporate world” and so merely raised my hands in a helpless gesture when Betty asked if I’d like to accompany her.  She came back from the talk raving about the speaker and his topic, which was “how to tour a garden”.

The speaker that evening was Gordon Hayward, and his thesis was that visiting a garden ought to be considered a treat because it can help us see our own garden more clearly.  His simple premise: keep an open mind.  Too often, he told his audience, we walk into a garden just to see what we like and we don’t like.  Our prejudices get in the way of learning anything, be it a different principle of garden design, color choice or ornamentation. 

On Saturday, we visited Gordon and Mary Hayward’s garden in Putney, Vermont, which was open as part of the Garden Conservancy Open Days program.  Their garden is an acre and a half of inspiration, and humbling inspiration at that.  In addition to lecturing and writing on horticultural topics, Gordon Hayward also designs gardens, and his catalog of projects is nothing short of stunning.  If a ‘great’ garden is one from which you can take away inspiration, then this one is truly superb.

Here is the garden plan. 
Double-click to get a
slightly larger image.

The garden contains eight distinct areas (the diagram at left is, unfortunately, a very low resolution image).  The Haywards have incorporated a woodland garden, an outdoor dining area, a spring garden, a pair of mixed borders as well as long borders, dry and moist shade gardens, and a formal herb garden.  Parts of it are very formal, much of it is highly informal, and all of it is designed to encourage wandering as an aid to discovery.  Paths are everywhere; they become visible only when you come upon them, then promptly disappear from view a few steps further on.  (Here are some photos of the garden in other seasons.)

Frogs play musical instruments
Whimsical elements are pervasive.  There’s a Druidic image of the Green Man, carved into the stump of a butternut tree, representing the meeting place of the worlds of man and plants.  Frogs play musical instruments on birdbaths.  Wire-frame sheep ‘graze’ on the lawn.

Clipped boxwoods lend structure
to the garden
But everywhere is also a keen eye for design and the creators’ knack for visually leading the visitor from one garden space to another.  Gravel around a tree base sends a subliminal command to pause – “this is important”.  Paths lead to vistas of the surrounding fields and mountains.

Paths lead everywhere
The garden has been nearly thirty years in the making but is still growing.  Fifteen years ago, the Haywards uncovered a cracked concrete floor behind their barn where perhaps a half dozen cows would have stood in their stanchions. Less innovative minds (certainly including my own) would have ripped out the  concrete and started fresh.  The Haywards filled the cracks in the concrete with drought-tolerant, ground-hugging perennials.  Today, the area is a tapestry of succulents and flowering perennials, with the gray concrete reduced to a few small areas that bespeak its original purpose.

Betty with Mary
It is a garden that encourages the taking away of ideas and, in turn, this garden was inspired by others.  Mary Hayward grew up across the fields from the Hidcote Manor Gardens in the Cotswolds; Gordon grew up in Connecticut farm country.  The Haywards’ garden incorporates the concept of ‘rooms’ that are one of Hidcote’s principal features.  It also includes apple trees that were part of Gordon’s boyhood.

It was, in short, an enchanting day in a gem of a garden.

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